Each week in “Your Other Dad Says,” I answer questions about navigating life in a very modern world.
“Dear Other Dad — I’ve been thinking a lot throughout the pandemic about friendship, and the fact that I often tend to make friends with adults rather than people in my age group. And while I adore the friendships I have with the loving, supportive adults in my life, being ‘mature for my age’ sometimes leaves me feeling isolated from the social structures around me, or feeling as though I don’t have a lot of close friends at school. I don’t want to ‘wish away’ this time and these experiences in my life, but sometimes I can’t help wishing I could jump ahead to later adulthood. Do you have any advice for someone who often feels isolated from their peers, but doesn’t necessarily feel the need to break in and make those connections with people their own age? — Rev19”
There’s a lot to unpack in this question, which has three topics knit into one: your innate approach to the formation of friendships, a sense of isolation from peers, and the desire to get this time period over with. Let’s talk about each part separately.
Read up on the science of friendships (yes, there’s a whole field of study!) and it commonly agreed that friendship is often born of proximity and then forged in communication, positivity/pleasure, and reciprocity. Your town, school, house of worship, or job brings you together with other people and then you find commonalities that connect you to some of them. A good friendship allows you to form a shared language with another person and each positive experience you have with them rewards you for it. Reciprocity is often the make-or-break element in a healthy friendship: Are you each putting into the relationship as much as you receive in return (in terms of support, effort, listening)?
It sounds like you are the rare sort of person for whom proximity isn’t the big social driver. I assume you find pleasure in your connections with adults because you enjoy communicating with them on a level that you don’t feel like you can communicate with your peers. If your interests and your personal maturity both align better with older people, it’s only natural to lean toward those bonds and to be inclined to repay in kind. As long as we’re not talking romance, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this; it’s simply your personality, a classic case of like what you like.
But that doesn’t solve your second dilemma: feeling isolated sometimes. One strategy is to actively nurture secondary friendships; by that, I mean put effort into friendly acquaintance relationships, even if they are not core bonds. Consider those with whom you enjoy spending time — not your squad per se, but kids you like — and take opportunities to connect with them. You don’t have to know every in-joke or join every sleepover; you can join a movie night (once COVID finally bugs off) or take part in a group chat online without swearing a blood oath to eternal friendship. Show your interest and engagement; help others see that you not only enjoy being included but that you add to the fun.
All of it — for them, for you — is temporary. Nobody stays in high school or college forever (though if you’ve seen Dazed and Confused, you know some people try). Life will be a steady stream of relationships, some brief and some long. The closest friendships of youth will not likely register as intensely over time, because nothing from your teen years goes unchanged. Think how different you were at 15 than at 12, and then at 18 from 15. By the time you turn 21, even more change — whether a simple refining of self or a whole reinvention — is likely to have occurred.
Interestingly, according to a study discussed in the Wall Street Journal, your average person won’t meet their real best friend (or best friends plural) until they are in their twenties. That means the bonds you nurture now can reward all parties in this moment, but likely won’t define you forever.
You have intuited that as you age into adulthood the years between you and older friends will feel smaller, less meaningful. When you’re 40, you won’t find it strange if someone you confide in is 60. But don’t wish away the remainder of your youth even so.
Find ways to enjoy the pleasure of your peers (and to be a pleasure to them) without worrying whether you’re on the same level and without the burden of calibrating how much these bonds mean in the long run. For now, just enjoy friendships of all ages and varying degrees of intensity, trusting that you’re choosing your connections wisely.
This post was previously published on P.S. I Love You.
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